Mr. Charlie Simms was teaching his journalism students at Beverly Hills High School about the concept of leads. A lead is a few words that sum up the meat of an article: the who, what, when, where, and why.
He laid out a scenario and asked the students to write a strong lead for the school paper:
– The school principal announced that the teachers are headed to a conference on Thursday
– The conference will focus on new teaching methods
– Among the conference speakers are a notable anthropologist and a local governor
The students came back with a variety of leads:
Famed anthropologist to guide Thursday’s teacher training
Entire staff mandated to attend conference this week
New teaching methods the central issue at upcoming teacher training
After listening to everyone’s suggestions, Mr. Simms told them they were all wrong. Close, but no cigar, kids.
The lead’s that there’s no school on Thursday.
What all great pieces of writing have in common
Mr. Simms taught his students an important lesson. Writing isn’t merely about sharing facts. It’s about sharing a message.
All great writing has an overarching point that hovers above the words.
And all too often, we lose that point in the words we work so hard to arrange.
The simple practice to give your piece a clear message
This is actually very easy to do. But most people skip the all-important first step.
Before typing a single character, you have to get clear on what I call your walk-away message.
A walk-away message is the ONE thought you want a reader to walk away with after reading your copy.
It’s essentially the lead of your piece.
Readers won’t remember every word you write. But they will remember the central message they infer.
Once you define your walk-away message, your writing will naturally wrap around it. Every sentence should lead your reader closer to the overarching conclusion.
The mistake most writers make
Most people write by just…writing.
They sit down. They fire up the laptop. And they GO.
Their fingers start moving and the words start flowing. Before long, they’ve got something that kinda sorta gets across the point they wanted to make…but not really.
When you start writing without a plan, words take on a life of their own.
They try to find their own way towards an unknown destination…which ain’t easy.
That’s why this style of writing rarely yields a dazzling end result.
We naturally get so caught up in the facts and the flow and the voice and the sections and the subheads. And don’t get me wrong, all of those things are important.
But what’s MORE important? Is the bigger message behind it all.
When you have a walk-away message for your piece, you’ll know where your words need to go. It informs what you need to say and how you should say it to convey your message loud and clear.
Example walk-away messages
It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a sales page, a blog post, or website copy. The process is the same.
If you’re writing an about page, the walk-away message could be:
This person is uber accomplished but also way down-to-earth.
For a sales page for your fitness program, the walk-away message might be:
Life’s too short to spend another year overweight and you totally have what it takes to transform your life.
If it’s a blog post about productivity, it might be:
Eating the frog first thing in the morning will help you get more done.
For a Facebook ad for a parenting coach, here’s a potential walk-away message:
Bad things can happen when you don’t know your teenage daughter.
An awkward email to your mother-in law might communicate this message:
I love and respect you, but getting the kids a cotton candy machine for Hanukkah really isn’t a good idea.
If it’s THIS here blog post, the message might be:
Getting clear on a walk-away message will help me write better copy AND make the process easier.
Walk-away messages come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. Just make sure you define one before you start writing!
But what if I don’t know what I want my walk-away message to be?
Maybe you’re not sure about the message you want to communicate yet.
That’s totally okay.
Do your best to come up with a central idea. Make it a working walk-away message for now.
Remember, this is your process! There are no hard and fast rules here. I just want writing to be easier and (dare I say?) more fun. So make this practice work for you.
Once you start writing, if you feel a different walk-away message coming through the words, you can edit your message or even write an entirely new one.
You have my permission to tweak it, add to it, or scrap it and start again if you feel called to.
Just make sure you have a central message, so your writing has a clear end goal.
Give this a try on your next piece! Decide on your walk-away message before you start writing. I guarantee it will guide you to create an impactful, meaningful piece that delivers a clear message.
join the convo
Let’s kick procrastination and decide on a walk-away message right now!
Think about an upcoming piece you need to write.
In the comments, share the message you want a reader to walk away with. What’s the ONE overarching message you want to communicate?
Can’t wait to hear your ideas!!